Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Final Day on the Road

It was a strange feeling waking up and knowing that the next bed we’d be waking up in would back at Sarah’s Mum’s place on the farm, with the smell of freshly baked bread and brewed coffee. We checked out of our hostel and had a light breakfast on our way to Chinatown where we finally bought gifts to take home. We found a vegetarian place for lunch that was healthy but not really tasty, but we made up for it when we found a kopi (Singaporean coffee) shop down the road that served really nice and strong kopi which was exactly what we needed.

Home to the farm
We decided to see the famous malls on Orchid Avenue, although they were completely out of our price range as expected but it was nice to window shop and browse the book shops. We went back to Little India and found the rest of the gifts that we needed before going back to Lavender Food Court for a really good laksa and pad thai, Dave’s two favourite dishes and a great way to finish our journey. 

They kindly let us shower back at the hostel even though we’d checked out, something much needed after the humidity of Singapore or we would’ve smelt horrible for the overnight flight. It took a little over an hour to get back to the airport on the metro but we were in no rush as our flight wasn’t till 2am. The time passed surprisingly quickly and before we knew it we were boarding the final flight of our adventure, finally bound for home and super excited about seeing our friends and family. The combination of uncomfy seats and thoughts about home meant neither of us really slept but we were sure that the adrenaline once we landed would keep us awake for the next day – and it sure did!

Clean and Friendly Singapore

We arrived at the airport at 3am and didn’t collect our bags right away as we planned on sleeping on the seats till it at least became light outside, we hadn’t booked a hotel since we decided it wouldn’t be worth it for the couple of hours we’d use it. We found the ‘sleeping chairs’ that we’d read about, but as forewarned they were all occupied, so we instead used the normal chairs which at least don’t have arm rests so you can lie down properly. After making a trip to the toilet Dave returned and excitedly exclaimed that even the toilets are so clean in Singapore we could sleep in there – quite the contrast from what we’d become accustomed to in China!

It wasn’t long after we’d laid down that a security guard woke us up and wanted to see our boarding passes. We explained that we were actually staying in Singapore and weren’t in transit and as it was still dark he begrudging agreed that we could stay till 6am and then we’d have to move on. It’s such a great and comfortable airport that they must have people trying stay there for days or something! 

Despite the seats being fairly comfy and both of us having eye covers and music neither of us really slept and we were up by 5am exploring the airport. We checked out the famous butterfly enclosure to pass the time, the only problem being that butterflies like the sun and as it was still yet to rise there wasn’t much activity. The display of the cocoons was cool though, especially as two butterflies were in the process of hatching out.

By 7am we decided it was time to venture out into the real world from our cocoon so we went through passport control and easily located our bags at the lost luggage desk. The metro was also easy to find and navigate, especially since everything was in English again! Even though we arrived at our hostel at 8am they had our room ready in 10 minutes so we could take a much needed shower before exploring the city. The Drop Inn hostel was ok for expensive Singapore, but it looked like we’d be sleeping in separate bunk beds for our last night as travellers. 

The owner had given us some useful tips while we’d waited for our room so we took his advice and headed towards Little India, stopping for some breakfast along the way. What surprised us when we reached the area was to actually find cheap the Chinese souvenir shops that we’d been trying to find all along in China. We found enough gifts but decided to come back later to buy them as we couldn’t be bothered carrying them all day. We continued on to the Malaysian Cultural Centre which was closed but was right next to a massive mosque. We didn’t go in as we’d seen enough mosques already, but we did admire it from outside while enjoying an ‘energising’ ginger tea which the guy at the hostel had recommended to us. Turns out the energising aspect is probably not due to the ginger but more to the decent amount of condensed milk that had been added. Either way, it tasted very smooth and we were in need of energy in both the natural and sugar form so it was a good find.

We continued to explore the area, chancing upon some markets that were interesting to stroll around, but by 2pm we were beginning to feel weary so we headed back for a short nap before meeting up with Dave’s colleague Rachel and her new intern Blake for dinner. We went to the nearby Lavender food court which has an amazing variety of food to choose from, and even though Dave and never actually met Rachel before in person, she insisted on paying for everything and wouldn’t hear otherwise. People’s generosity is something that has really amazed us while traveling and we vow to pass it on once we’re back home!

Rachel was meant to have a conference call at 10.30pm, but decided that the prospect of playing tour guide with us was a better option so she got out of it and we headed to the Marina to see it lit up at night. We walked from the Durian building all the way around to the ‘Big Ship’ hotel which also has a Casino inside and we thought having a small gamble on the roulette wheel, and potentially pay off our year of travel, would be fun but we discovered that the casino closed at 11pm – what casino does that?!

Our hopes of winning big were dashed so we walked back over the Helix Bridge and caught a bus back to the hostel, thanking Rachel for a great evening. By the time we crawled into and up onto our bunk beds it was nearing 2am and we were too exhausted to even register the thought that the next time our heads touched a pillow it would be back in our own country.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Final Day in China

Normally on our last day in a country we have something at least half grand planned, but not today. Today was all about sleeping in, checking out as close to 12 as possible and then managing to occupy ourselves in the city until our flight at 10pm. Finding something to do in town proved to be very easy as we chanced upon a massive pedestrian only shopping area and spent a good couple of hours exploring it, searching again for presents and enjoying checking out the myriad of shops.

Before we knew it 4.30pm arrived and we needed to be back at the hotel in an hour to begin heading to the airport, so we quickly found some food and more importantly a green tea ice cream for dessert. We crammed ourselves into a packed double decker bus to get back to the hotel and due to some heavy traffic realised that we were now half an hour behind schedule, to make matters worse by the time we grabbed our bags and made it back to the bus station we had to wait 20 minutes for the next bus which wasn’t even the direct one meaning that the trip to the metro to take us to the airport took a lot longer than we’d accounted for. Turns out that it didn’t matter as we neglected to check the operating hours of the metro and for some reason it closed at 6.10pm (Come on.. really?!) Since it was already 7.15 we’d missed it by a long shot and we had no option but to hail a cab, of which there were plenty – obviously the closed metro caught more people than just us out. Thankfully our driver used a meter and our also understood we were in a hurry.

Our flight was leaving from the brand new Kunming airport and the building is very cool – and clean – and empty! Being empty meant that despite our delays we had no trouble checking in on time and then we could relax and explore the echoing halls till our flight. We even managed to finally find some gifts which used up every single last Yuan that we had, how’s that for budgeting! 

The flight was much like the airport - practically empty which seemed very strange, but then at the last minute a tour group arrived and very quickly the plane was filled with old Chinese people who didn’t understand any of the rules and etiquettes of flying… thankfully only four hours later we landed in the wee hours of the morning at our last destination for our year long trip – Singapore!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

A Failed Temple Visit

We slept in until 11am – a much needed refreshing sleep that we’d been lacking of late. The plan for the day, or more correctly the afternoon, was to visit the Bamboo Temple on the outskirts of town. According to Google maps it was fairly straightforward to navigate there – take bus 237 to the terminus and then bus C63 to the temple. Simple on the phone, but the 1st trip took almost an hour and the 2nd bus didn’t even turn up. We waited for a whole hour, gave up and walked to the next stop to look at the list of buses and discovered that the bus we needed no longer existed so we figured that it must have stopped doing the route, and no one had yet told Google…

Since we’d already travelled almost an hour we thought that it shouldn’t cost too much to take a taxi the rest of the way, but after two failed attempts to convince taxi drivers to use their meters instead of trying to charge us at least triple what it should’ve been we decided that we were hungry and could no longer be bothered with the further hassle of getting to the temple. Instead we caught bus 237 back into town and had a small lunch before exploring the markets hoping to find some suitable gifts for our nieces and nephews. Unfortunately everything we found was either overpriced or really tacky so we ended up empty handed. Surprisingly China was proving to have a severe lack of the Chinese trinkets that it’s famous for!

We watched some funny dance lessons in the park, it’s pretty cool how people don’t seem to mind dancing in public even if they are beginners, and the dancers ranged from the young to the old, the latter usually being much more coordinated - probably due to many more years of practice. The afternoon passed very quickly as we continued on our hunt for gifts and before we knew it, it was time to find somewhere for our second last dinner in China. How fast the time had gone! When we returned to the hotel we pulled everything out of our bags and checked all our pockets to make sure that we weren’t going to accidently take something through customs. Then we repacked, managing to shove everything in before enjoying what would be our last decent shower for a while.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Kunming

After our early Maccas breakfast we ventured out into the new day to explore the new town. We found the bus we needed to get to our hotel and boarded just as the skies opened and it rained torrentially. Despite reviews saying the accommodation would be difficult to find, and we knew this could be very true from experience, we fortunately found it easily and we were also fortunate enough to be able to check straight in despite the early hour. This meant we could shower and be refreshed for exploring the city.

The temple we went to first was the largest in the area and still practicing with monks performing their daily prayers as well as making numerous loops of the pond in the middle of the grounds. We wandered through the main park of the temple before finding some lunch in a food court, although Sarah’s stomach was still not great, it seemed this sickness was really taking a while to shake. 

We planned on a short afternoon nap to recharge after the very early morning but as neither of us remembered to set an alarm we didn’t stir till 7pm, which was not what we had planned but it did mean that it was dinner time which we went directly out to find. Afterwards we managed to explore at least part of the city before we were too tired for anymore and it was back to bed and despite having slept most of the arvo the comfy bed meant we had an excellent night and actually didn’t wake up the next day till 11am! Perhaps we are just a little exhausted…

Last and Final Overnight Train

View over Dali from the Pagodas 
We packed up and headed into town to the GoGo Café for a relaxed Saturday morning brunch, something we hadn’t done in a long time and we lazed around at the café til almost 2pm just watching the passer-by’s and sheltering from the on and off rain. We were both feeling rather exhausted despite a good sleep in and we thought we had either caught something or the constant moving was finally catching us up - or both!

We decided however that since it was our last day in Dali we shouldn’t spend all day lazing around so we got ourselves up and went for a decent explore around the rest of the town. We went back to our hotel in the late arvo and picked up our bags to head to the station at 8.30pm although we should’ve left earlier as the bus took 20 minutes to show up and by then we were beginning to worry about making it on time, especially since the bus only took us to the edge of town and we then had to find a taxi to get us the rest of the way to the station. 

We made it just in time and our train turned out to be better than we thought, a nice change for once, and even though we didn’t sleep great it was still fairly comfy and not too feral. When we arrived in Kunming at 5.45am it was still dark and we knew that there was no point trying to head to our accommodation so early so we saw a 24 hour Maccas on Google Maps and decided to hide out there till at least the sun had come up (which took exactly 3 coffees, 2 egg McMuffins and 1 OJ to do so).

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Up and Away

Our cool room at the Yellow Canary,
one of our nicer sleeping places!
We planned to go up the Changshan Mountain range and originally thought that it’d be nice to hike up and then walk along the ‘Cloud Path’ that linked two temples and then catch the cable car back down. However, since Sarah was still not feeling great we decided that an uphill hike might not be the best idea so instead we went the soft option and caught the cable car up. 

Our host, Cici, organised a ticket and free pick up which took us directly to the cable car and saved us negotiating for a taxi which was a nice for a change. It was an enjoyable ride up and we were quite grateful to not be sweating our way up by foot as it turned out to be quite some distance and the track essentially followed underneath the cable car the entire way. We didn’t see a single person hiking up the trail either, which maybe indicated something…

Cool old bridge just before
the path ended
Once at the top we checked out the sacred pond and then started the 4.5km walk to the Seven Dragon Pool. The Cloud Path was paved and an essentially flat walk along the mountainside – a very pleasant walk to do. Unfortunately though, the Dragon Pool destination was closed due to the construction of two more cable cars that would eventually go all the way to the top of the mountain. They were actually already running but we couldn’t see anybody in them and we had no idea how to get to the base of them so we assumed they were probably still in the testing phase. 

Even though we couldn’t quite make it to the Dragon Pool there was a nice old stone bridge and waterfall where the path was blocked at so we stopped there for a breather and some plums we’d bought at the market before turning around and heading back to the cable car. Since our taxi had only been one way we walked back into town from the base of the cable car, which turned out to be further than we remembered, meaning that we didn’t get back till past 4pm and by then we were quite starving and decided that this would be a good time to try the Buddhist Vegetarian Buffet for 5RMB. It didn’t open till 5.30pm however so we distracted ourselves till then with a yoghurt and waited impatiently till the prayers began which was the signal that the kitchen was open.

The 'Cloud Path' along the mountainside
The food was nutritious with really nice vegetarian dishes. They have a strict rule that you must eat everything on your plate and when Dave went to show that his was clean they instructed him that he hadn’t done a good enough scraping job and they watched while he ate every last grain of rice before accepting his plate back. Unfortunately Sarah had taken a good couple of spoonful’s of what she had thought was hummus but which turned out to be smelly fermented tofu, and it was impossible to eat even the tiniest amount of it. Worried about how we’d actually return the plate with food on it a fellow tourist kindly offered us a tissue in which we could hide the tofu till after we’d left the temple.

We had an overnight train the following night and since Sarah was still recovering from whatever bug she had contracted we decided an early night was needed so after another quick explore of the town and the markets we headed to pack and to bed, hoping for a good night’s sleep before another day on the move.
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